Saturday, 9 April 2016

Glasgow International 2016, a Festival of Contemporary Art

Yet again Glasgow International rolls into town, a two week festival of international contemporary art, which arrives here every second year. There are dozens of exhibitions and events on the go until April 25th, which does cause a bit of stress to a completist like me. However to maybe help you chose what to see I will give a quick review of the stuff I have managed to see in the first couple of days. One of the best things about Glasgow International is that it is all free.

West End

I started out at the Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow. Apart from a small Glasgow International exhibition, there is an excellent exhibition upstairs here on the history and influence of comic books, including possibly the world's first comic book from 1825, The Glasgow Looking Glass.

Work by William Hunter, anatomist
Work by Damien Hirst, sort of artist

The theme of the exhibition here is to show "moments of mutual synergy" between science and art. What it does show is that the 18th century anatomical casts of a truncated pregnant women and illustrations from a 19th century textbook of histology are far superior works of art than Damien Hirst's Necromancer display cabinet.

Kelvin Hall , Glasgow
The Kelvin Hall is currently undergoing refurbishment before opening next year as the new home of the Hunterian Museum from Glasgow University. Whilst it is still a building site the foyer has been used during Glasgow International to house works by Helen Johnson and Claire Barclay. I'm afraid I was drawn as much by the chance to sneak a peek at the building wrk inside the building as by the artworks on show, but I was impressed by both.
A crumbling room in the Kelvin Hall
Both artists on display here used history as inspiration with painter Helen Johnson creating large canvases riffing on scenes from Ovid's Metamorphosis and reflecting on colonialism (this was the site if the Great Empire Exhibition), and upstairs Claire Barclay's elaborate sculptures reflect on the 1951 Exhibition of Industrial Power from the Kelvin Hall in 1951, but also from the annual carnival that used to be held here.
Claire Barclay's sculptures at the Kelvin Hall
Across the road from the Kelvin Hall, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was built for the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Upstairs on the balcony, opposite to the organ is a small, but interesting exhibition by Aaron Angel , who also has pieces withing the Botanic Gardens this year. These sculptures (The Death of Robin Hood) reflect pastoral crafts, but skillfully executed and tie in with a program of organ recitals within Kelvingrove.
Four sculptures by Aaron Angel in Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Kelvingrove pipe organ viewed through the sculpture

City Centre

Trongate 103 is a hive of activity with Glasgow Print Studio, Transmission Gallery and Street Level Photoworks all holding exhibitions. Most eye catching is the stuff at Project Ability, an arts organisation supporting people with disabilities and mental health problems. They have a series of drawings by American artist Derrick Alexis Coard, imagined portraits of bearded African-American men. They leap off of the page with colour and vigour, really enjoyed seeing them. 

Work by Derrick Alexis Coard in Project Ability
Further up High Street, in what is being called "Civic Room", a former British Linen Bank building in danger of vanishing unless it is looked after, is the work of Brazilian artist André Komatsu. In an early example of Victorian concrete an steel construction, he exhibits Disseminacao Concreta, a life sized clothed body of a man, made from concrete boulders. At the from of the building he also has a piece, Borders 1, on display.  I really liked this concrete man, particularly in the shabby back room of this former bank, with the steel door of its safe behind his carcass. It is a lovely use the building

Former British Linen Bank, High Street Glasgow
Disseminacao Concreta by André Komatsu
At their Aird's Lane gallery the Modern Institute have a collapsed steel framework by Monica Sosnowska, modeled on a structure from an Eastern European scheme, with more twisted metal sculptures outside, whilst at their Parnie Street gallery a child-like talking desk critiques the world of art production and distribution. The work is by Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan and looks like the result of a weekend of brainstorming by the Ikea design team when someone sneaked LSD into their tea.
A Petition for an Enquiry into a Condition of Anxiety at the Modern Institute
Monica Sosnowska's work outside the Modern Institute, Aird's Lane
The main hall at the Briggait has a sculpture made of polythene sheets suspended from the ceiling by Heather Lander and Simon Harlow. This may be more impressive when seen at night when they have projections on them. Also in the Briggait are sculptures and drawings by Jock Mooney, which look set for a religious ceremony created by a comic book artist in the style of Frank Quitely.

Part of Jock Mooney's exhibition
There is more humour in the excellent exhibitions within the Mitchell Library. In the main hall Tamara Henderson's giant, totemic scarecrows inhabit this great big space. The gallery invigilator encouraged me to sit in the dilapidated car in the middle of the room to watch the video that goes along with it all. Upstairs in the Jeffrey Room, incongruously set amongst the shelves of leather bound books the works of Jacob Kerray and George Ziffo look like home made banners from a football match but riff on subjects such as racism and commercialiation. This was one of my personal favourites of my day.

Jacob Kerray and George Ziffo at the Mitchell Library
At the CCA Pilvi Takala has multiple video works on display looking back over ten years of work. They are humorous, silly and very engaging, such as trying to get into Disneyland dressed as Snow White, and being refused. I am not always a big fan of video artworks as I am too impatient at times but these are worth watching. Also there is a wall of posters for lost pigeons. Have you seen any of these birds? Some of these have been posted around Glasgow, haven't they, or am I imagining that?

Pilvi Takala
Within the Reid Building at Glasgow School of Art I really liked Serena Korda's suspended fungi, which are accompanied by musical chanting that you hear through headphones whilst walking around if there is not a live performance on the go. Her archival material in the room next door is fascinating too.
Serena Korda's Hold Fast, Stand Sure, I Scream a Revolution
I like the pop art inspired works by Emily Mae Smith on near St Enochs Square at Mary Mary Gallery. Bright, cheerful, but also with dark hints within them. I liked the marching broomsticks from Disney's Fantasia posed like Andy Warhol's gun-slinging Elvises. Pop culture reference overload. 

Emily Mae Smith at Mary Mary Gallery
There is plenty to see in the Gallery of Modern Art too, with the main hall filled with sculptures, paintings and videos by Cosima von Bonin. She was born in Kenya and lives and works in Germany. Her works have lots of toy-like sea creatures and "Missy Misdemeanor, the vomiting white chick" who sits astride a huge pink rocket. Tessa Lynch's sculptures upstairs are interesting too and the blurb that goes with it talks about the "questionable existence of the female flaneur, or flaneuse". It is a funny idea to find questionable when the city is ideally set up just now for male and female flaneurs to wander aimlessly, stumbling across things and just observing people. 

Sculpture by Cosima von Bonin at GOMA


House for an Art Lover, Bellahouston Park
A cluster of exhibitions sit in the "Artpark" buildings that sit alongside Charles Rennie Mackintosh's House For An Art Lover in Bellahouston Park. I didn't know this place existed and it has a fantastic permanent exhibition on the heritage, architecture and history of the are, including the shipyards which I spent most of my time here at to be honest. Gabriella Boyd and Marco Giordano fill one shed with engaging paintings and sculpture. For the other works here, I was more impressed with the buildings and gardens, where the hyacinths are just beginning to flower with their distinctive smell that you either love or loathe (*metaphor klaxon*).

Artpark at House for an Art Lover

Artpark at House for an Art Lover
Scotland Street School Museum, again an overwhelmingly impressive building by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, has a small exhibition in their ground floor gallery space next door to the cafe. This shows work from the varied career of Glasgow born artist Raoul Reynolds. I had never heard of this interesting character. He was born in 1882 and led a nomadic life between Glasgow and Marseilles, and died in New York in 1969. His father was a shipyard owner and his mother from a Marseilles manufacturing family. He was influenced by European avant-garde art movements but doesn't ever seem to have fitted in anywhere. His life story turns out to be more interesting than his work if I'm being honest, with hints of someone having more money than imagination. Perhaps I am just being over cynical. 

Work by Raoul Reynolds at Scotland Street School
There are several major exhibitions on at the nearby Tramway, a group show including work by Alexandra Birken, Lawrence Lek, Sheila Hicks, Mika Rottenberg and Amie Siegel. The premse of the exhibition is to explore ideas around production, manufacture and history. Like the exhibitors in the Kelvin Hall the interactions with the building's history is part of that. Many of the spaces used in Glasgow for studio space and galleries are disused industrial spaces, such as this massive tram depot on the southside. Many of the works here are meant to be using that idea, but most of them weare video works and I didn't have the patience to sit through them. I admit I wasn't in the most receptive frame of mind after just being stopped by the Police on the way here for jumping a red light on my bike. At the subsequent set of lights (which were green) two pedestrians then just about bundled me off of my bike by not noticing me. I arrived at the Tramway in a peevish mood. However I was still a bit disappointed by it all. On a side note, could someone at the Tramway think about installing a few cycle racks in the vicinity, there aren't many easy places to chain up a bike nearby. Ta.

A sculpture made of coloured linen by Sheila Hicks at Tramway.
 Also in the Southside, Glasgow graduate Josée Aubin Ouellette has a display of ergonomic soft sculptures on the floor of the pool at Govanhill Baths. You are encouraged to put on a pair of felt slippers and go down and loll about on these pieces. I preferred to nostalgically stare at the wooden changing cubicles lining the pool, remembering my childhood swims in Whiteinch Pool. 
Govanhill Baths, Glasgow
Who knew that there was a Roller Disco in Kinning Park? (Oh.Well I didn't know). This is the scene for performances by Asparagus Piss Raindrop, the self proclaimed "crypto conceptual science fiction anti-climax band". I have seen them perform before at the Glasgow Tectonics festival and they usually tread a fine line between taking themselves very seriously and being very silly. I am not sure whch side of this line they've fallen this time but I liked the idea of them performing on roller skates to electronic music and live percussion and saxophone. It feels like an unsuccessful 1970s dystopian film that failed at the box office because of the poor special effects and I would not have been surprised to see a young Donald Sutherland with handlebar moustache appear amidst the chaos. Whilst five of them kept skating around and performing three others acted as a transvestite, a saxophonist and compere. You get the gist.

Asparagus Piss Raindrop at Roller Stop, Glasgow

Asparagus Piss Raindrop at Roller Stop, Glasgow

What else?

There is a fantastic amount on show all over the city, much more than I have mentioned here. I plan to head to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Glue Factory in the north of the city and to the David Dale Gallery in the east end. I also fancy going back again to see the works at the Art School, CCA and the Civic Room which were some of my highlights.

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